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Quaid, a 2084 construction worker haunted by dreams of Mars in this crowd-pleasing science fiction spectacle. Against the wishes of his sexy blonde wife, Quaid goes to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories, so he can "remember" visiting the red planet that is now being settled by human inhabitants. However, Quaid is actually an amnesiac secret agent from Mars - or is he?
For more about Total Recall and the Total Recall Blu-ray release, see Total Recall Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on July 19, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell
Director: Paul Verhoeven (I)
» See full cast & crew
Total Recall Blu-ray Review
For the memory of a lifetime, don't Rekall this disc.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, July 19, 2008
Your whole life is just a dream.
What do you get when you combine director Paul Verhoeven's (Starship Troopers, RoboCop) unmatched eye for directing ultra-violent, futuristic Science Fiction with the stature and action movie credentials of Arnold Schwarzenegger (End of Days)? The answer, of course, is Total Recall, one of the finest, most thought-provoking, violent, fascinating, and well-paced Sci-Fi/Action films of the 1990s. Where have movies like this gone? Arnold now finds himself too busy with politics (and maybe too old) for movies of this style. The once-great Verhoeven still finds himself behind the camera, but with a legacy tarnished with the likes of Showgirls and Hollow Man now haunting his resumé. Sadly, at this time there doesn't seem to be a director or action star willing to return us to the glory days of Paul Verhoven's violence-laden Science Fiction films that arguably stretched the limits of taste but provided his brand of social commentary alongside the blood and guts.
In Total Recall, Schwarzenegger portrays Quaid, a simple construction worker living out a routine, dull life with his wife, Lori (Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct). The setting is somewhere in the future at a time when space travel is commonplace, Mars supports a colony of humans, the World Series features a Tokyo-based team, and yet televisions somehow retain an early 1990s quality. To add some spice to his life, Quaid, against the better judgement of both his wife and his co-worker, Harry (character actor Robert Costanzo), heads to Rekall, a business specializing in fake memories. Unfortunately, in what may be the middle of the procedure at Rekall, Quaid awakens in a rage. He believes he's in the middle of an interplanetary conflict between two factions fighting to control Mars. One faction is headed by Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox, Deliverance), the business executive who runs the Mars corporation. The other faction consists of mutant human rebels who inhabit the planet. With some unexpected help, Quaid travels to Mars and meets the girl of his dreams, just as Rekall had promised him, in the form of Melina (Rachel Ticotin, The Eye). On Mars, Quaid must search for answers, discover his true identity, and choose not only his fate, but that of the entire planet and all those living on it, assuming, of course, that his life is not a dream.
Even though I've seen the film a dozen times or more, I still leave Total Recall every time believing I have figured the movie out, only to doubt myself and question every conclusion I've come to over the course of the latest screening, and every previous screening. Underneath the veneer of incredible action, violence, and the generally solid performances from the A-list actors working in the film (including Schwarzenegger, Stone, Cox, Ticotin, Costanzo, Michael Ironside [Top Gun], Marshall Bell [Sex and Death 101], and character actor Ray Baker [Executive Decision]), Total Recall offers viewers a mind-bending masterpiece where the real joy of the movies comes from trying to figure out what's actually going on. Inspired by Sci-Fi author Philip K. Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," Total Recall provides just enough exposition and a suitable finale, allowing each member of the audience to initially believe in one of many possible outcomes. Meanwhile, the deeper mysteries of the movie are left completely unanswered, and for that reason alone, the film has nearly infinite replay value. Total Recall is a mystery best left unsolved, a grand spectacle of the melding of the senses where several variations to the story make perfect sense, until the next time you watch the movie, anyway. This is arguably both the smartest and most vague Science Fiction film ever made, and therein lies its enormous success.
The film's fine action and intrigue speak for themselves, but for my money, one of the things that makes Total Recall even better is Jerry Goldsmith's perfect score for the film, embodied by the theme heard over the opening credits. Every note exudes outer space, Science Fiction, and action, and is, along with such seminal works as John William's various themes for Star Wars, James Horner's work on Aliens, and Alan Silvestri's work on Back to the Future, one of the finest examples of Science Fiction film scoring of the later half of the 20th century. Goldsmith's score perfectly captures the feel of the movie, evidenced by the lead track heard in the film, entitled "The Dream." Here, Goldsmith combines heroic horns with a messy industrial beat that perfectly captures the heart and soul of the decrepit, less-than-inviting locations on Mars. Every note plays in perfect harmony with the accompanying scenes, and the score is definitely a classic amongst its peers.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Video Quality
Lionsgate implants Total Recall onto Blu-ray disc, and this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is a disappointment. The picture is quite grainy and generally lacks fine detail and clarity. An absence of vibrancy and depth is noted immediately after Quaid's nightmare in several shots in both his bedroom and kitchen. In fact, I had to forego posting a screenshot of Quaid and Lori in bed after his nightmare because the picture lacked even basic definition, and you could hardly tell who the actors were. Some scenes show excessive dirt and debris, especially during special effects-heavy shots, and the presence of such meddlesome nuisances is apparent in many scenes, but in a decidedly less-than-intrusive amount compared to the few shots where their presence is undeniably distracting. The random hair and line also pops up on occasion on this print. Many green screen effects are plainly obvious on the disc as there is sometimes a glow around the actors as a result. As mentioned above, detail is fairly unimpressive, although I did note some background objects I'd failed to see before, but that might just be because I'm viewing the film on a substantially larger television set than ever before. Still, background details are hazy, as are some foreground details. Black levels are solid but exhibit a slight bit of crushing. Colors are mostly uninteresting. The red exterior of Mars is predictably weak, but the various interiors of Mars, like the inside of the club where Quaid meets Melina is fairly bright and vibrant with a few neon signs, good lighting, and decent reproduction of the various colors of clothing worn by the cast. A fine layer of grain is present over the image, spiking in a few shots but maintaining a rather consistent, unobtrusive level throughout. Flesh tones never seemed too out-of-whack to bother noting. While Total Recall could look worse, it certainly pales in comparison to most other Blu-ray discs I've reviewed, but then again, it's never been a glamorous, beautiful movie to begin with.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Total Recall's plot involves a tale of two personalities vying over one body, so it is fitting that the soundtrack offers decidedly differing listening experiences between the film's two halves. With no lossless or uncompressed option, Lionsgate brings Total Recall to Blu-ray with both a DTS-HD ES 6.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix. The first half of the movie, which takes place on Earth, lacks dynamic range and punch, noted immediately in Jerry Goldsmith's score as it plays over the opening title sequence. Punches and kicks in fight sequences also lack an oomph. Effects fail to deliver any impact in the films first 45 minutes, so that scene after scene feels somewhat lessened as a result. Despite the extra channel on the DTS track, rarely do the surrounds make more than a cursory appearance. The entire first half of the track is decidedly front-heavy, and the left and right speakers take it upon themselves to handle many of the lows as well, leaving the subwoofer relaxed and barely noticed, although some of the gunshots and explosions do manage to reverberate just a bit, while others are unsubstantial and tiny. It's not until nearly 45 minutes into the movie that we finally hear and feel deep bass and a palpable, consistent surround presence when Quaid finally arrives on Mars. From there on, Total Recall, lossless or not, becomes an action lover's sonic delight. Gun shots pick up in intensity, explosions and other deep, rumbling moments rattle the subwoofer, and the action and story benefit from the added impact of the soundtrack. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout both of the movie's halves. While the soundtrack is a solid one for the latter half of the film, its inconsistency and lack of a lossless option definitely hurt this disc's overall audio score, but the quality of the movie makes looking over such anomalies a bit easier.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, this disc's supplemental section is almost as barren as the surface of Mars itself. Aside from a 1080p Lionsgate Blu-ray promotional montage, Vision of Mars (480p, 5:28) is the only extra. This feature has nothing to do with the film itself; it is simply a short look at the history of the study of the planet Mars and the then-current state of exploration and scientific knowledge of the Red Planet.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
To give you an idea of how much I like Total Recall, I bought the disc in the first days of DVD back in 1997 -- and owned it for about a month before I bought a player. Back then the movie was distributed by LIVE Entertainment (eventually acquired by Lionsgate), and I was impressed with the DVD (once I purchased a player) on my old 27" CRT 4:3 television (probably connected via RCA cables, too, how times have changed!). Sadly, I cannot recommend the Blu-ray disc universally. Although the movie is fantastic, one that fans of Arnold, Science Fiction, Action, and violence will love, the haphazard quality of the disc keeps it from being worthy of adding to every Blu-ray collection. This disc still trumps the two DVD editions I've owned (the original release and the Mars-shaped tin) but not so much as to make the purchase of this disc a no-brainer, especially considering the lack of a lossless audio option. There are virtually no supplements here, either, and therefore unless you're still holding onto a worn VHS copy, I suggest waiting for a better edition to come out (and I have no doubt it will), even considering the current "nice price" of $13.95 that Amazon.com currently offers.
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